Monday, December 17, 2007

Sea Change

A month back, Scott Beale wrote about a shirt created by Improv Everywhere; the shirt allegedly infringed a trademark of Best Buy. On Tuesday, December 11, Beale got a cease and desist letter from a Best Buy lawyer (or shell script). But by Wednesday December 12, not only did Best Buy acknowledge the first amendment rights of bloggers (their word choice, not mine) they actually sincerely apologized.

Similarly, on Friday, December 14, T-mobile stopped delivering customers' SMSes to or from twitter.com. In arrogant letters, "Executive" customer service representatives claimed that *not only* is twitter an unapproved third party application, but any attempt to cancel one's service over the issue will result in a $200 charge. But by Sunday, the issue was mysteriously resolved.

Both corporations back-pedaled; Beale and Twitter both graciously called the events a misunderstanding. Not the power dynamic you'd expect, is it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

crowdvine.com

Crowdvine is a tool that allows you to create your own social network in just a few minutes. It works, but *man* is it ugly. No I mean really, it looks like a thirteen year old cobbled it together while working his or her way through a "Learning Ruby on Rails" book.

I checked; it turns out the "thirteen year old" is an industry veteran, Tony Stubblebine, who you might recognize because he wrote the O'Reilly Regular Expression Pocket Reference that some of us can't live without. But the amount of press this fun prototype has gotten is disproportionate to its utility. It's spooky, actually.

Now, sites based on crowdvine and re-skinned by professionals are pleasantly functional and smooth. But clearly a lot of time has gone in to these custom versions. Nice framework, but rapid code deployment definitely doesn't translate to rapid site launch.

VoodooPad for Mac OS X

VoodooPad is a desktop wiki, recommended to me by a cow orker. It's made by Flying Meat, who describe it as a "garden for your thoughts." Some folks thoughts are ticker-tapes, others slag heaps, I like a garden.

I'm trying to replace the myriad Stickies on my desktop with a "notebook" type of app and this is the best I've seen so far. It's easy to get started by copying and pasting old notes into it ... and it's just as easy to go the next step to full wiki-style linking and templating and categorizing madness.

VoodooPad includes a plugin framework and comes standard with things like word count, alphabetize and record audio. You can even insert quick sketches that you draw right on a page using your mouse.

It's awesome! And free to download and try out. $29.95 removes the fifteen-page limit imposed on the free trial.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Various, Inc. Assimilated

Penthouse Media Group has reportedly acquired Various Inc. Various runs a handful of "dating" sites including Adult Friend Finder and its anti-particle Big Church.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

habbo.com

Habbo is like Second Life with Lego people.

Create and dress an avatar, then walk around and chat with folks. Uh, that is if you have Shockwave installed, which doesn't run on Mac OS X or Linux. (Parallels running Windows XP with IE 6 works!)

Visit other people's rooms or create a room of your own for free. Though to decorate your room, you must spend Habbo Coins. Things like chairs and rugs are around a buck each ... and they have a many ways to collect your payment: credit cards, 976 numbers, prepaid cards, premium-fee SMS ... more options than a skuzzy porn site!

Overall a great idea, but the up-sell is sleazy. (Particularly when 90% of their users are 13-18 years old.) At least in real life you can scrounge up cinder-block shelving and cable-spool coffee tables ...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Automated Configuration Management

If you've got more than a few servers, you pro'ly wish you had configuration management software. In fact, by maintaining that handful of kickstart configs for new hosts and the veritable slag-heap of shell scripts that you run on already-deployed servers, you've pretty much built your own.

But other folks have already invented this wheel:

bcfg2 (interesting...)
Lets you define what a configuration "should" look like and then have agents tell you what's actually out there; if they'd just document it, humans could use it!

cfengine (safe choice)
That for loop you're using to update your systems is getting pretty big and your shell scripts are all pretty kludgey; cfengine gives you the ultimate automated for loop ... but it's ugly!

puppet (my choice)
By now you're wondering if you can just write your own system where communication over https allows clients to run scripts periodically. So did these folks! (And it rocks.)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

hi5.com

Start-ups have this wacky period when they switch from the seed-funded crazy land grab, to the second-round-funded fortification of battlements.

Hi5.com appears to be *right* on this cusp. It's a brilliant idea and it's going to be interesting to watch. Meanwhile, it's fascinating to see the dichotomy frozen in time.

Crazy land grab:
* Upon login you are immediately asked to invite your friends.
* Your profile page prominently shows your stats, enticing you to add more.
* They've outsourced video to VideoEgg; avoiding capital investment in favor of higher costs per item.
* Their database is clearly a central bottleneck.

Imminent Metamorphosis:
* They're hiring.
* Some database results are apparently being cached closer to the app. (e.g. "friends of this user" is less-than-dynamic)
* They are prominently featured as part of Google's Open Social hype.

I can't wait to see how the company matures!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mac OS X Leopard

Here's what I keep hearing:

Bobo: "Hey, what do you think of the Leopard update?"
Momo: "Dude, it sucks."
Bobo: "What!? How come?"
Momo: "Well you know how you can tell it to give you a back-rub every time the screensaver activates?"
Bobo: "Yeah! That sounded totally great! What's wrong with it?"
Momo: "It doesn't spend enough time on my neck and shoulders! I can't believe Apple would treat its customers this way! Grrrrr!"

But here's what I see:

* The real kewl stuff is in the kernel; read the Ars Technica review.
* ZFS: *everyone* is porting it ... this is going to be interesting.
* This update *sped up* my computer; why do we expect the opposite?
* It installed without making me sit there and click a "gee whiz" button over and over.

So, briefly:

I really like it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

mippin.com

Mippin is an RSS reader for mobile phones, currently in beta. I like having some reading material on my phone (for lunch time alone or when I arrive at appointments early) and I've been using Google Reader up until now. After two days with Mippin, I tossed Google out. Here's why:

* Mippin is pretty, with favicons and all. (What’s Google’s obsession with the Windows 3.1 color palette?)
* Mippin displays things compactly, yet expands for modern phones with larger displays.
* RSS feeds with image attachments include a thumbnail next to the entry’s title.
* I can ignore RSS for a couple days and not have a stack of "unread" messages. (Didn't we learn anything from usenet obsession?)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Innovage Digital Camera

Oh, MYGOD ... it plays "Moon River" when you put in the driver disk! This ten dollar digital camera is going to be the best thing EVER. I popped in the included AAA battery and shot a few photos and then booted XP in my Parallels environment to install the easy-to-use patent-pending photo management software and suddenly I'm having breakfast at Tiffany's. This is going to rock!

It takes twenty pictures at high resolution: 352 x 288 pixels. It was easy to get the MY CAMERA software to transfer and save them as jpegs, but I'm still trying to figure out how to delete them from the camera. I can't wait to try capturing "several seconds of video" on it. Being able to "simultaneously send on the internet" is going to change my life, I just know it.

What? Like those Holga freaks are any better? The medium *is* the message!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

faceyourpockets.com

The concept is simple, empty your pockets onto a scanner, then press your face down on it and hit "scan." The collection of people's scans is fascinating.

It's one of those weird sites where your first thought is, "wow, this is neat." Followed quickly by the skepticism of "wait, some people are staging the contents of their pockets." And then slowly, after a dozen more faced-pockets, you realize that "staged or spontaneous, there's something eerily 'genuine' about this."

I've pulled a dusty HP scanjet 4670 out of the closet just so I can contribute, because after a few dozen faced-pockets you just can't stop wondering how *your* scan will compare.

Friday, September 7, 2007

versionate.com

Wikis are really great for managing text, but they suck at managing proprietary formats of data. Natch, the purists would tell you to port the proprietary stuff to open formats, but you just can't get a wiki to sum a column of values, calculate the average and display both values along with the standard deviation.

So we all have these orphaned little word and excel files that we use for stuff that doesn't fit in the wiki. If you're organized, you and your cow orkers keep those files on a server somewhere, so you can all make changes and all have the most recent version of the files.

Enter versionate, who've souped-up the wiki's ability to deal with those orphaned files. You upload a word, excel or powerpoint file and they let everyone just view it right there in a browser. No viewers needed, it just renders it in html. And then get this, you can *edit* the files in a browser too!

So there you are in the datacenter on a borrowed computer that's got nothing more than a browser. You can still get to your team's excel file that you needed in order to find a spare IP or something. You can view it in the browser. And if you need to, you can update and it and save it back in the same format it was in.

It's really quite spiffy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

pownce.com

Everyone describes pownce as "the digg people's answer to twitter." And that's really what it is, a recreation of twitter-pioneered micro-blogging, but with the experience of having watched twitter evolve and scale ... plus with a couple of useful features integrated.

Natch, you post a few quick words about what you're up to and your friends get to see it on their own pownce page. Woohoo.

But then they've added the features that twitterites seem to've invented/popularized on their own. Any post can be designated a "Link" and your post will include a little chicklet to click and visit whatever site you're talking about. Designate a post as a "File" and you'll be able to upload about 10 Mb along with your text, that friends and fans can download with a click.

They've also formalized the twittermob, allowing you to designate your post as an "event." You can then specify a time and place that pertain to whatever you're posting. So in case your friends couldn't figure out what "beers at zeitgeist after work" means, they're now saved from the hobgoblin of ambiguity.

In short, it's a knock-off with a few informal "use cases" integrated as actual "features." So naturally, I hope that twitter catches up or does it differently or gets that magical "first mover" advantage and continues to survive as the "kleenex" of microblogging.

Unfortunately for twitter, pownce has something that twitter just hasn't bothered to build ... a desktop client that is full-featured, unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasing and written in-house. They use Adobe's AIR platform (flash on steroids and rebranded) to make it work on macs and pcs, and it really just works. It pains me to love it, but sheesh, have you ever tried to find a twitter desktop app that wasn't either totally busted or totally ugly? (Pocket Tweets doesn't count, that's hip-top.)

At lunch today, my cow orkers mentioned that Twitter just received a round of funding from some small players, and one of them is Marc Andreessen ... it'd suck for him if pownce turns out to be the Internet Explorer of microblogging.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

shozu.com

In a nutshell, Shozu extends your camera phone's capabilities to save images or video directly to your favorite blogging and picture sharing sites. It'll send stuff you've previously saved on your phone, or it'll send something you just captured. They're currently able to send to blip.tv, buzznet, any email address, flickr, an ftp account, blogger, kodak, dada.net, livejournal, metaweblog, moblog.uk, picassa, pikeo, qipit, scoopt, textamerica, typepad, vox, webshots, wordpress and youtube. They don't seem to support social networking sites yet, like myspace, facebook, xanga and the like.

In short, it works just fine. Once configured, it's just a couple clicks on the phone to send your pictures and video to any site you like. Every new picture or video you make, it pops up a menu and offers to send it to your configured sites. There's even an automatic CC (as in carbon copy) function to always upload images to the sites you configure.

To me, though, it doesn't add much value. I've already got entries for flickr, radar, rabble, livejournal and others in my phone's contact list, so it's the same number of clicks for me to send pictures to any of those sites. Plus, shozu adds their own logo to every post they make on your behalf, and it's a pretty big one. MMS or emailing my pictures into a sharing site directly doesn't add anyone's logo to my posts.

The other nuisance is that I can no longer take several pictures in a row on this N75. After every picture, it tells me to open the flip phone so I can tell it whether or not I want to send the image to one of my configured sites.

For some folks, maybe road-warriors (claims adjusters?) or maybe teens or maybe grampa, this might be a really useful utility. Plus it's the only one I've seen that lets me upload to an ftp site, which could be turned into a very interesting sort of "webcam" application, showing my latest cameraphone picture on a web page, up to the minute. But for me, I'll be sticking to direct upload with the email/MMS gateways kept in my contact list.

Nice features; maybe they'll get bought for parts.

spriteyard.mobi

A couple weeks ago the mobile industry was all excited that Coca-Cola was actually going to try its hand at a mobile social networking community. So they created a Sprite-branded mobile community called The Yard. I think the name is supposed to refer to the fun place children get to go when they're not in class ... not the place prison inmates go to lift weights and shank rival gang members.

To gain access to the yard, you must text the word "yard" to 59666 (which spells "lymon") and they'll send you back a magical URL that you can access on yer phone. The site lets you upload pictures, and issue "shouts" to all of your friends. I didn't have any friends so I clicked the link to go find some.

You can search for new friends based on shared interests or location or "tag" ... and if you pick interests they give you a list of drop-down menu choices to cleanly cubby-hole yourself into a market researcher's matrix. For instance, one "interest" category is "How do you stay in touch with your friends" so you can find friends who share your desire to connect by phone, email, IM or smoke signal. I think that last one is to identify the stoners.

It's interesting to see a gigantic corporation dipping a toe in the water. The poor bastards gotta be terrified. Somewhere a marketing person is saying "how are we ever going to commercialize a medium where people just send things to each other directly, with no corporate supervision!? Think of the children!"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

velvetpuffin.com

Velvet puffin is a desktop app that lets you log-in to all of your instant messaging accounts all at once. It's a *really* version 1.0 app. *All* it does is log you in to several messaging systems at once and connect to friends on your different systems ... whcih is what Trillian and others did back when they were verison 1.0. So it won't replace my own version 3-plus IM aggregator, but it does do plenty of nifty 1.0 things that people will dig. Casual users might really enjoy it.

It's a flash application, so it's cross-platform, but don't try to get it to do too much fancy work without leaking memory. On the other hand, AOL, Yahoo and Google are so insistent on bundling their way onto your desktop, the memory footprint isn't all that big a nuisance in comparison. Honestly, the choice between velvet puffin's memory usage and a client that pushes flashing banner ads at me all the time ... I might take the memory hog.

Sure, I uninstalled it pretty quickly, in favor of Trillian which I already use ... but I don't think I'm typical of web users. Velvet Puffin is incredibly easy to install and use, and I think that's important.

Perhaps they'll be bought-out for parts. The cross-system log-in, by itself, is a valuable function. They also have a reasonably solid webcam broadcasting tool, thanks to flash. The ability to share photos and videos with other users rounds out its features nicely. These are pretty useful parts.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

widsets.com

Nokia's gotten onto something here. Widsets is a java app for your mobile phone that gives you a nice, scrollable, attractive page of widgets that feed you information. Right now it's mostly just some rss readers, but they've just released their api and folks like jaiku are making some pretty functional widgets for this cute little app; functional widgets that don't just read, they publish back.

What's fun is that it's a "push" model, so each of your rss feeds' new items gets sent to your mobile right away. Each feed can have a different alert sound at a different volume level. In a parallel universe where I had to be a business development sort of person, I could see myself setting quiet alerts for my industry's news feeds, louder alerts for items from my clipping service and even louder alerts for new entries in the blogs of my competition.

It reminds me of the running ticker-tape you'd've seen in the serious business person's office when "wire service" meant an actual wire and ticker-tape meant a piece of very long paper. Plus ca change?

What *did* ever become of Pointcast?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Moo Cards

I'm in love with these people. They use the pictures that you select from your gallery on flickr or bebo or fotolog or vox or livejournal or views from your second life or habbo. Then they print 'em on the front of these cute little 28 x 70 mm cards. Then you tell them some text to put on the back of the card, mostly just something static but they also allow you to include basic variables like "the name of the picture" and stuff.

Twenty bucks gets you one hundred cards. I threw together a few pictures of the cat, some flowers, and a derby dolls bout for the front of the cards; then I threw some pithy text and the URL for my podcast on the back. I handed 'em out at work to everyone who came by my desk and people loved them. In fact, I had none left after *one* day.

I think I love it because it's just a nice, simple, versatile thing. You could make some really fun calling cards with this app ... or you could make a *killer* meme initialization vector. The cards make you crop your images so narrow that the viewer naturally wants to see what the rest of the photo looked like ... so you put a URL or text on the back that lets them see the rest of "the big picture" and it's irresistible!

Monday, June 11, 2007

piczo.com

This is the site where you can upload, store and manage pictures and videos ... and they're squarely targeting the tweens, from what I can tell. Right there on the main page is the enticement to upload content that is "hip and fresh" but "safe."

The experience of building a page to share by pictures and stuff was really smooth tho ... it was like the first time I saw Aldus Pagemaker. And I really enjoyed the video upload thingie. I clicked a thing to add a video to my page and they said I had to install VideoEgg ...which made me nervous, but I was actually very impressed. They found my webcam and offered me simple one-click tools to record a video, import a previously recorded video, and basically do anything it took to get a video on the site. These are very impressive warez.

What's weird is that every page of the site reminds you not to share personal information with sites you donut know ... and yet the only advertisers on the site so far are sleazy "click the monkey to win an ipod nano" sort of sites who make a living off getting your personal information.

Friday, June 1, 2007

imeem.com

If i was a teenager again I'd have this site running in the background all the time.

If you like a song, you can click a button to add a blog post on blogger, livejournal, wordpress, typepad, myspace or xanga. The post it creates integrates the flash music player inline. So your adoring fans can play the song while they read the rest of your blog.

It's not easy to just hit "play" and let it drive, though, the way you can with something like pandora. You can listen to playlists that folks have assembled, but for now I'm just playing a tune and then clicking something at random from the "more music" list on the page. I tried the genre listings, but when I selected Jazz, instead I got some crappy soul music in a weird language ... then again, some folks would probably argue that's the definition of the stuff.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yahoo Widgets

I'd been using Google Gadgets on my desktop for a little while, but they weren't really impressing me. Then I upgraded to Vista (this was the biggest mistake of the year, btw) and decided I'd try out their widgets interface, I think they call it the "Sidebar." Those were pretty, but there weren't a whole lot of 'em.

So now I'm back to Konfabulator. It's officially Yahoo Widgets. But it's the Konfabulator I fell in love with so many years ago.

Wonder what I'll try next ...

threadless.com

I got a couple of fun t-shirts off threadless.com, the other day. We'll see what the quality is like. What I like is that artists upload their artwork for putting on t-shirts and then the users of the site vote on which ones they would like to see actually offered for sale.

Judging from the ratings I saw, the audience is pretty tasteless, but WTF, that's democracy.

linkedin.com

Oh my god I do *not* want to buy your stupid amway products.

Actually for some people this site is totally perfect and they love it. But me, I keep just getting these shotgun invites from people who think that quantity of connections is more important that quality of connections. I'll bet they're the ones with the MBAs, too.

xanga.com

The dudes at xanga.com have a really solid architecture behind their app and it shows. It seems like the undoing of so many of these sites is that they just can't scale and I think these dudes have it figured out.

On the other hand, if they try to up-sell me one more thing I'm going to scream. It's so sad when a dot-com goes panhandling.

virb.com

Virb is one hell of a pretty site. I really love it. On the other hand it made it so easy to integrate my other social networking sites that I don't think I've actually used virb, so much as set up a nice graphical presentation layer that reads my other sites.

Maybe that's the point, tho.

Gmail for Blackberry

It's a little branded J2ME app for doing gmail on the small screen. I created a special account on gmail and set my blackberry to check it. It's handy. The actual blackberry messaging system is still my main.

radar.net

Radar.net were one of the first to get a Facebook application running, so I had to check 'em out. I like it! They let you email your cellfone pix to their service, where they add 'em to a shoebox for you. Then you can add "friends" who are always allowed to see what pictures you've go on the system. Also, for each picture, you can have the service email photos off to anyone you like ... and of course when you send a picture, they make it easy to invite the person as a friend.

Curiously, their privacy policy is very opt-in. Initially no one can see your pictures.

jaiku.com

Jaiku is twitter done right. I don't know what their connection with Nokia is, but it scares me. They never had a scaling issue, so there's someone behind the scenes who was willing to pay for good architecture instead of just rapid development.

They will rule the world. Lets just hope they bring socialized medicine with them.

Mobile strategy: They have an app built for the Nokia S60 that doesn't just access the site, it integrates folks' posts into the contact list on the phone! They're in private beta of a J2ME app, which is good news because the "community provided" J2ME apps suck.

Monday, May 28, 2007

twitter.com

The digerati have a home and it's twitter. All the people I miss in the bay area are on here. It's like an SMS answering machine ... you don't have to listen to your phone chirp every second when a friend posts some inane thing about the new LOLcats post, you just log in when you've got a few minutes and get all their messages in a stream.

It's brilliant. Do one thing; do it well. Then publish it all with rss so it can infect other sites.

Mobile strategy: designed from the start to be SMS enabled, it's very easy to do the whole darned thing on your phone. J2ME apps are numerous and hit-or-miss ... my flavorites are tinytwitter, twitterberry, and jargong.

gaiaonline.com

We tried gaiaonline.com at work. I think they basically took a page from World of Warcraft, that your app is sticky if you can make an avatar that's totally customized and there are "quests" to do that earn you quatloos that can be traded for more elite features.

But I'm just waiting for the first pedophile scandal.

The company that runs this thing is *really* smart about targeting demographics ... who knows if this particular one's going to make them famous ... they're gonna totally pwn some niches.

livejournal.com

I like livejournal. It's a really clean interface, it makes it easy to update stuff, not only is it easy to get stuff pushed in to a livejournal account, it seems to be also supported in every "include my blog in my page" thing out there. I think they've really got the idea of an appliance ... one that does the job just right and also offers plenty of chrome if that's what you're into.

dodgeball.com

This is a really interesting proof-of-concept. People don't seem to be grooving on the idea of leaving a GPS signal running on their phones all the time, but they do seem to be willing to say "hey I'm going to such-and-such bar right now" and have it automagically SMS'd to all their friends.

However, I'm told that after Google acquired the company, they started to just strip it for parts, and the whole staff of Dodgeball quit on a Friday the 13th in disgust.

I wonder what it's gonna take to get location based phone stuff to be accepted by people. There's gotta be some killer app that'd get folks to feel safe using it.

facebook.com

All I remember is that back at UCSC newly admitted students would call the admissions office to see if they could get their email address early, so they could sign-up for facebook. These guys really seem to get it, and their new "Platform" widget thing is going to totally kick ass ... think about it, you get your favorite features of another site, but the whole time you're still at facebook. Genius vampirism.

myspace.com

Oh my god MySpace was a cesspool and *then* FOX bought it. Are they all smoking crack over there? I really think they meant well when they said "gosh with a ton of marketing and branding folks we could really make this into a monster!" They just didn't realize it's the kind of monster that waits under your bed to grab any ankle that sets foot near the floor.

rabble.com

Mobile blogging. Seems to have good features for checking one's popularity at a glance. The early adopters are pretty depraved, but I think the next couple waves will be more mainstream. Let's hope...